THE BLOG
04/11/2014 08:21 am ET Updated Jun 11, 2014

3 Steps to Manage Stress Like a Boss

Stress hurts. If you're feeling overwhelmed, under-productive and sleep deprived, chances are you could benefit from taking charge of your stress levels right now.

It's no secret we're more stressed out than ever. According to the 2013 Stress In America survey, most adults do not believe they're doing a good job managing the demands of life.

The good news is stress and anxiety are highly manageable. Make the following three steps part of your daily wellness tool kit to start feeling better tomorrow.

Step One: Boost your psychological insight (AKA self-awareness). This is the cornerstone of social and emotional intelligence, and they key to developing healthy interpersonal relationships. It's about getting in touch with what's going on inside you and around you. Self-awareness also means being attuned to what others say, and what their body language reveals.

Focusing on the here-and-now is crucial because constant worrying about the future contributes to anxiety. Living in the past creates depression when countless hours are spent rewriting, reliving and recreating past events and relationships.

The only time we "own" is right now. In addition to understanding your thoughts, feelings and behaviors, self-awareness is improved by mindfulness, meditation, and passive-muscle relaxation.

Meditation can include visualizing a relaxing place like the beach or the forest, or sitting in silence. Passive-muscle relaxation releases tension, and increases energy levels and mental clarity.

Step Two: Pay attention to your breathing. We underestimate the impact our breathing patterns have on our psychological well-being. When we're stressed out, we tend to over-breathe (rapid, shallow breaths that resemble panting) which can lead to panic attacks, or under-breathe (hold our breath) which can cause dizziness or hyperventilation. One of my go-tos when I'm feeling overwhelmed is the 4-4-4:

Inhale for a count of four, hold for a count of four, and exhale for a count of four.

Try this pattern at least three times in succession throughout the day. Practice deep breathing when you're calm, too.

Step 3: Get to sleep! Studies show lack of sleep is a major cause of physical and psychological stress. Additionally, drowsy driving may increase the risk of being involved in a fatal vehicle accident by up to 33 percent. We know we're supposed to sleep at least eight hours per night for optimal functioning. And we've all felt foggy, fatigued and grumpy as a result of sleep debt.

So why don't we make sleep a priority?

Regardless of past habits of burning the midnight oil, you can commit to getting more zzzs tonight. Make sure your room is cool, dark and quiet. Night time rituals like a warm bath, a good book, and soothing music can help. A few drops of lavender essential oil on a tissue placed under your pillow promotes calm, too.

Getting on the other side of anxiety doesn't have to be complicated. Become the CEO of your emotions and take charge of the choices you make. Being cool, calm and collected is an inside job.

Linda Esposito, LCSW is the Anxiety Saboteur at TalkTherapyBiz. For FREE relaxation Mp3 audios, mental health updates + anxiety support, subscribe here.